I attended a wonderful conference in New York yesterday (and am subsequently writing this post from LaGuardia airport during a snowstorm and hoping to make it back to Houston today.)  The Ark Group/Managing Partner Magazine’s 4th Annual “Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library & Information Service Centers” focused on topics ranging from Libraries getting back into Knowledge Management (KM) initiatives, unique ways to enhance research training techniques, to high-level management skills needed in today’s large global firms.  As you can see from the topics, you probably guessed that this conference was focused on the BigLaw environment.

There were a few comments made yesterday that I thought were worth sharing:

  • Law firm librarians that are just reactive in their services won’t be here in 10 years.
  • Remember that analysis and adding value to the information you provide is the new mission critical model for Libraries and KM.
  • Libraries and KM need to help integrate the ‘practice of law’ and the ‘business of law’.
  • Taxonomies are important to enterprise research.  Don’t just expect your lawyers to research using the “Google” method.
  • Upwards to 80% of attorneys use Westlaw or Lexis, but almost 100% of them use Google when conducting legal research.

The presenters were excellent, and gave us all some insights on some of the projects they have managed.  Steve Lastres of Debevoise presented on how Libraries must get back in the Knowledge Management initiatives.  I have mentioned before that I thought that if IT keeps completely managing KM initiatives, that KM would slowly die a painful death.  Although Lastres didn’t come out and say it that bluntly, he did think that over the past few years that KM suffered from the lack of ‘creativity’ and ‘understanding’ that most IT departments don’t have.  In a very polite way, we were told that KM needs a blending of the IT and Information Services groups in order to succeed.  IT provides the plumbing (infrastructure), and Information Services provide ways to improve the overall process and results of KM initiatives.  Julie Bozzell of Hogan & Hartson aptly reminded us that human intervention in KM is critical, and that KM is not all about IT (to which I said “Amen!!”)  Alirio Gomez of Milbank, Tweed mentioned that Libraries and KM initiatives should remember that the facilitation of the information should not end with the user, but rather the users should be enabled to share that information with others after he or she receives it.

Not all way peaches and cream on the Knowledge Management front, however.  There were a couple of comments made throughout the day that showed the cracks that are in the KM foundation at law firms.  One of the most telling comments was when a couple of people mentioned that when they work on KM initiatives, they do not mention the phrase “KM” or “Knowledge Management” to their attorneys.  KM has suffered from being viewed as an “IT Project” where the goal is to “complete the project, and check it off the list.”  The other telling comment was that when Jean O’Grady from DLA Piper surveyed the firm’s associates, 33.5% of the attorneys didn’t even know that the firm had a KM resources at all.  In addition to this, almost another 16% said that they didn’t use KM resources because they had bad experiences with them or didn’t understand what those projects did.  So, it sounds like KM might need to repair its image within the firm.
[Note: My apologies to Jean O’Grady for leaving out her name when I initially posted.]

Librarians are also struggling to ‘prove their worth’ within the firms and trying to figure out the best way to add value while at the same time reduce overhead costs (whether that cost is subscriptions or salaries.)  Gitelle Seer of Dewey & LeBoeuf reminded the audience that the library should be ever vigilant in teaching attorneys and researchers the most cost effective methods of legal research.  I actually got to expand this by demonstrating how to use research capturing resources like Research Monitor or others we reviewed here to make researchers better by exposing them to how they currently conduct research.  The library can potentially bring enormous value to practice groups by identifying trends in how they conduct research, and potentially working with the groups to produce practice checklists or best practices documents.

It was interesting listening to comments mentioning some important aspects of the law firm environment that tend to get ignored.  For example, Jean O’Grady mentioned that in the past most firms didn’t worry about what was going on during the ‘non-billable’ time as long as there was plenty of ‘billable time’ on the books.  In other words, when times are good, firms didn’t exactly work to become more efficient.  However, as I’ve mentioned in previous post, the time of passing costs on to clients is a business goal that cannot be maintained. Cost recovery is still a business goal of firms (and will be for the foreseeable future), but if your firm’s cost recovery goal is “don’t loose money,” then you need to seriously rethink that goal.

As I mentioned earlier, Librarians are constantly being asked to prove their worth to the firm.  It seems that the universal consensus amongst the group was that in order to do that, you have to have “The Metrics” to back it up.  At first I was excited, but then I realized they said “The Metrics” and not “The Matrix”.  Proving ROI and overall value to the powers-that-be in a law firm means that you need statistics and solid numbers backing your department.  This isn’t a new game in the library world, but it may be the most important one that you at least know the rules to.  The library management team should also understand what data needs to be captured in order to make the metrics mean something to others.  Specifically it was mentioned that there are certain pieces of information that is needed for cost recovery, and that the information may be different from client to client.  If the information isn’t captured at the library level, that cost may not be recoverable at the finance level.  The other hint was that librarians need to work closely with vendors and leverage that relationship to realize better cost recovery methods.

It was nice listening to what others are doing during this time of significant change that is affecting the law firm environment.  It wasn’t a giant pity-party at all. Instead it was a rather valuable insights into a few of the great minds of the large law firm libraries.  Listening to how others handle similar challenges is a great motivator for the participants to go back and modify what they learned to their own situation.  I hope I get a chance to attend the 5th annual conference next year… this time without the giant snowstorm!!